Guest Post: Do the Fans own the Artists?
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from David Mac. I am running this despite the fact that I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says—because I thought he expressed his viewpoint cogently enough to earn a hearing (and because he has contributed so much to the discussions on this blog to earn credentials as a vital member of this community; I likely would not have run a column on the same topic from a first-time visitor). Oh, and the Red Bull reference sealed the deal! – Daniel
Do the fans own the artists?
This question is vexatious, as is the subject at large – the seemingly never ending cycle of coming and going within southern gospel music groups. Is there genuinely a problem? And, is there anything about the management of change which can be changed for the better in the future?
The following quotes all came out of the same thread on this blog as a result of the [shock horror] announcement that Tim Duncan is leaving / has already left Ernie Haase and the Signature Sound Quartet, or EHSS as the group is commonly referred to in blog-sphere shorthand.
The reactions have varied across the blogs, and run the gamut of emotional reaction from feigned indifference to intrusive speculation, that Timmy is/was: a) sacked, b) joining another group, c) not recovered from past illness, d) wasting away, e) suffering from cancer, f) been abducted by little green men, g) none of the above.
Take your pick – only one of the above postulations is correct! Strange though it might seem the correct answer is (g) and so the WHY we are not actually privy too.
The BIG question is: What should we know?
One commenter put forward this viewpoint: “Fans have No right to such information!!. For your 10, 15 or 20 dollars you Do Not get the right to know unpublished information nor who will sing what song!!!..one of the many problems with SG !..Fans think they own the artists!~ What you Do have a right to is to see the group you paid for!.. It. That group now consists of different members or if they have the members switched around..So Be It !”
It is not so difficult to see how this, legitimate enough, position may be argued against. Let us step back a little and consider. A southern gospel group – any group – is a not a band but a BRAND, especially a “supergroup” with a global reach such as EHSS. We might suggest the “Gaither” brand is the Coca-Cola of southern gospel music, in which EHSS may be Red Bull. Both are packaged and presented in such a way to appeal to a stable but growing “customer” base across the globe, not just in the southern states of the US. Both appeal to a definite “taste” and a consumer sector across the world markets.
We buy into the EHSS brand because we like their products, they appeal to our tastes and to own their merchandise says something about us which we are comfortable to project as part of our own “image.” Do the Fans own the Artists? Absolutely not. But, here is the crux of the matter I think, EHSS [as an example] is not just an entity which sells and performs. It is not just an organization, it is in fact an organism! Ernie is a real person – truly – with a real wife and an extended family, not a stage family but real living breathing feeling hurting emotionally connected people. So is Tim, he is not just a Voice or a Bass Singer, he is a person, weary, worn, lonely, happy [whatever] with a wife and two teenage sons who surely must miss him desperately when he is absent often. Thus the pull between footlights and fireside which Jake Hess often reminded us of. So Tim, the person, is lost to us –for a time – and going back to his family, perhaps for a time. BUT, the “No such right” commenter IS right in this respect, we should be satisfied with what we ARE told, and in a dignified Christian manner, pry no further. Pray not pry. Period.
Another commenter remarked, by contrast, “I understand both sides! I saw them right after their last change [David Mac edit: when Ryan left]. It didn’t affect me because I had never seen them before and I did not have a favorite of any member. I agree that it is their life and they have to do what is best for the group and their families.” So, here is another matter – some “fans” have formed association with groups, or members, over time and truly care about the people as well as the product. To listen to the Tribute CD gives me goose-bumps after 100 plays, yet to talk to Ernie, Doug, Tim, Devin and Wayne once, is to connect with real Christian men who love to sing about the gospel and who connect with their support base in a special way. Though the “brand” remains constant, and the contents perform as the label says – and few, if any, want a refund – yet what Donne the English poet said was so right, “No man is an island entire of itself. Each one is… a part of the main.” For some to lose Timmy’s presence is significant, for others as long as the new guy makes an OK bass noise it won’t really matter!
Where the line needs to be drawn is between the WHEN and the WHY. To manage the change so as not to destabilize the position of the “brand” is crucial. That is a marketing reality. One genuine fan who really bought a ticket just to see Tim, and who went home saddened because they had no prior knowledge of his going, is one fan too many; if it is at all avoidable. One of the most poignant regrets in life; and suffered at times by most of us is, “I didn’t get to say good bye!” Yet the pressure on the outgoing member to say “Good bye” AND sing – for a week or a month surely is immense, as Daniel himself commented; “It would have to be incredibly tough on the person leaving during that period, unless he’s been there so long as to be a legend. After concerts, he’d have constant inquiries about his health, where he was going, why he was leaving, what kind of terms he was leaving on, ad infinitum. Put yourself in that person’s shoes, and it quickly becomes a whole lot easier to see why some people don’t want that kind of fuss!” The counter argument should consider the psycho-spiritual pressures generated by followers who – as is often the case – know the mind of God for us far more clearly than we do ourselves, “God told me to tell you to stay” is not an impossible response to a sincerely expressed “Good bye”! If, perchance, the member departing is leaving on family or undisclosed health grounds, for example, the psychological pressures will be immense. If the person is of a shy nature – as Tim Duncan appears to be – the very fear of the prolonged departure may precipitate a walk-out instead, so the latter end will be worse than the first. Perhaps this, above all, is the reason why many of the changes in SGM are NOT flagged up in advance?
Is there a reasonable, Christian compromise? I humbly suggest the following might be practiced to profit in the management of change in SGM:
- agree a ‘bowing out’ period with the outgoing member, once the group manager has been notified of their intent, possibly covering a minimum number of appearances.
- appoint a replacement and a start date, before the outgoing member departs, so that continuity is presented, and both may appear together.
- announce the change in advance, who is leaving when, and who is coming in, and when from in relation to tour dates / appearances etc.
- agree in advance how much of the “Why” should and will be told. Before the departure and after.
Perhaps this simple model would alleviate a lot of the speculation and sensationalism in SG group changes – though it might reduce the blog-column-inches as well! The SG business has garnered – and not totally unfairly – a “Revolving Doors” reputation over the years. Publicity is the oxygen that drives a brand, but contrary to marketing speak, not all publicity is beneficial especially in light of the greater goal; spreading, in song and testimony, the gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
Where there are problems in the life of a member which are severely damaging to the testimony – not only of the individual, but also the group associated with, and in fact the testimony of the body of Christ – then the only recourse would be immediate withdrawal. In such case, in keeping with New Testamant teaching it might also be better if this were so said. Sensational or salacious detail is never necessary but something of the nature of “…… is no longer able to perform with …. due to circumstances in their life which are inconsistent with what is expected of a believer in the Lord Jesus.”
What do the other commenters think?